Denim 101: A Crash Course in Jean Terminology

  • Copy by: Camryn Rabideau
  • Feature Image By: Stylishlyme

Denim is an essential part of almost any wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean jean shopping is easy and effortless—shopping for new jeans can be frustrating and confusing. After all, there are so many cuts, colors, and washes to choose from that finding the perfect pair may seem downright impossible.

However, you can make the process a little easier by brushing up on denim terminology. So here’s what you need to know to pass denim 101:

Skinny Jeans

Source: Tanesha Awasthi

Arguably the most popular cut in modern fashion, skinny jeans are fitted from the hip all the way down to the ankle. Most skinny jeans are made from a mix of cotton and spandex or elastane (a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity) so the fabric stretches more than typical denim. Pants with a higher spandex content are often referred to as “jeggings.”

The good news? Skinny jeans look awesome on everyone! Try options with different spandex content for a tighter or looser fit, depending on how much you want to highlight curves


Straight-Leg Jeans

Source: Song of Style

Straight-leg jeans, which are sometimes also referred to as cigarette leg, are quite similar to skinny jeans. The main difference is that straight-leg cuts don’t fit as tightly below your knee. They’re typically form fitting from the hip down, but they won’t hug your calf the same way as skinny jeans.


Bootcut Jeans

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This cut gives you even more calf room—typically enough that you can comfortably fit a boot underneath. Bootcut jeans are a good option if you’re trying to downplay your curves, as the cut falls straight down from the thigh.


Flared Jeans

Source: Sai Sankoh

Remember good old bell-bottoms? They are an extreme style of flared jeans, which flare out from the knee. This cut is often styled in bohemian or vintage outfits, especially when the flare is extra dramatic. However, more subtle flared pants in dark solid washes can be a chic addition to your wardrobe.


Boyfriend Jean

Source: Skinny Hipster

The idea behind the boyfriend jean is that they fit as if you threw on a pair of men’s denim. Boyfriend jeans are typically oversized, and many fashionistas like to wear them cuffed around the upper ankle or calf. Bottom line: If you’re going for a super laid back vibe, opt for the boyfriend jean—maybe even a distressed pair!


High-Waisted Jeans

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It’s also important to understand the different “rises” of jeans. High-waisted jeans, also called high-rise jeans, come up to your true waist, often landing somewhere around your belly button.

This fit is a good option if you’re trying to take attention away from your stomach and emphasize your waist. High-waisted jeans are also a great choice if you want to wear a crop top without showing too much skin!


Low-Rise Jeans

Source: The Darling Detail

On the flip side is the low-rise or low-cut jean, which fit snuggly around your hips. These haven’t been as popular in recent years, but they were all the rage in the 90s! This style is a great option if you want to flaunt your abs or highlight your hips.


Denim Washes

Source: Style by Alina

Finally, you should brush up on different denim washes before you hit the store. This essentially refers to the finish of the jeans: Are they a solid color? Do they have some sort of fading or pattern? Here are the most common denim treatments:

  • Dark wash: These jeans are extremely dark blue, as they’ve been highly saturated with dye. They’re great for a more professional look, but be sure to wash them before wearing, otherwise the dye may rub off on your skin or clothes.
  • Light wash: When denim is light wash, it’s been processed to remove most of the dye from the fabric. These jeans will be a light pale blue (like in the picture above).
  • Mid-wash: Jean washes fall on a spectrum, and mid-wash jeans can be any color in between dark and light wash.
  • Stone washed: This technique is used to create a pre-worn denim look. The jeans will typically be faded around the thighs and butt, as if they’d be worn for years.
  • Acid wash: With this wash, manufacturers use chlorine to create a random, splotchy pattern on the jeans. It makes for a very punk rock aesthetic!

We know it’s a lot of information to digest, but once you become familiar with jean terminology, you’ll feel comfortable walking into Levi’s and asking for bootcut, low-rise jeans in a dark wash. Knowing exactly what you want—and what looks good on you—will make jean shopping a much more enjoyable experience!